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Harlequin Intrigue 893
Harlequin
January 2006
Featuring: Alissa Wyatt; Tucker McDermott
ISBN: 0373228937
Paperback
$4.99
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Romance Suspense, Romance Series

Also by Jessica Andersen:

Spellfire, November 2012
Paperback
Magic Unchained, April 2012
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Lord Of The Wolfyn, October 2011
Paperback
Storm Kissed, June 2011
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Bear Claw Conspiracy, May 2011
Paperback
On The Hunt, February 2011
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Blood Spells, November 2010
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Demonkeepers, April 2010
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Internal Affairs, October 2009
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Skykeepers, August 2009
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Snowed In With The Boss, March 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Dawnkeepers, January 2009
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Manhunt In The Wild West, October 2008
Mass Market Paperback
With The M.D....At The Altar?, June 2008
Paperback
Nightkeepers, June 2008
Paperback
Twin Targets, May 2008
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Doctor's Orders, January 2008
Paperback
Meet Me At Midnight, September 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Classified Baby, August 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Prescription: Makeover, April 2007
Paperback
Under the Microscope, January 2007
Paperback
Red Alert, October 2006
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Rapid Fire, July 2006
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At Close Range, April 2006
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Ricochet, January 2006
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Bullseye, September 2005
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The Sheriff's Daughter, June 2005
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Covert M.D., March 2005
Paperback

Ricochet
by Jessica Andersen

Excerpt

Alissa Wyatt pulled her VW into the back parking lot of the Bear Claw Creek Police Department — BCCPD — five minutes after the task force meeting was set to begin.

Damn. She hated being late. She yanked off her BCCPD ball cap, twisted her honey-colored hair into a businesslike bun and shoved her sketches into a nylon portfolio. Then she bolted for the back entrance, trying not to slip on a patch of ice and rock salt.

The fierce Colorado mountain winter was cold and raw, but to Alissa, it felt like coming home. Granted, home was a relative term in her experience, but that was the goal here, to make a home. To find a place for herself.

She shouldered through the heavy door and sped past the desk clerk, heading for the back conference room at a fast walk. Though Chief Parry might overlook her tardiness, the others wouldn't. Bear Claw Creek's finest had been slow to welcome the three women who made up the new Forensics Division. Not because of their sex, but because Alissa and her two best friends from way back in the Denver Police Academy had been brought in to replace Fitzroy O'Malley.

The now-retired Fitz was an icon. A one-man crime lab who'd been a fixture in the mountain cop shop since long before most of the veterans had been rooks. And now those rooks-turned-veterans resented the three-woman team that had been brought in to run the newly expanded Bear Claw Creek Crime Lab.

Worried about the impression she might make, Alissa broke into a jog while she shrugged out of her bulky parka.

"You're late," a voice said from behind her. The dark, masculine tones grated along her nerve endings, sending up sparks where sparks had no place being.

She froze midstep, set her teeth and turned. Everyone knew Detective Tucker McDermott could move as silently as a wolf when he chose to, but it was still unnerving.

Rumor had it he could hunt as well as a wolf, that he never gave up until he caught his quarry — at which point he moved on to another territory. Another hunt.

Typical, she thought with a twist of irritation that had very little to do with the man in front of her and everything to do with men in general. But fair or not, McDermott bugged her for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his sheer presence. A hint of wildness clung to him as he stood opposite her in the hallway, making her think of mountain air and a hawk's cry, even when he was dressed for work.

The professionally starched, cream-colored oxford didn't mute the iron strength that shone in his six-foot frame, in the taut muscles of his shoulders and chest, and in the wide-palmed hands that held a pair of fat folders. Though he wore trendy slacks and polished leather boots, the city veneer didn't sink beneath his skin. His dark, wavy hair was too long for convention, his skin too burnished for a desk job, even in the depths of winter. And his eyes were the gleaming brown of Bear Claw Canyon at sunset.

Alissa's artistic soul took a snapshot, saving the image of wilderness contained within walls, even as her instincts for self-preservation sent her back a step at the look of pure masculine irritation in his eyes.

She forced a smile and cursed the churn in her stomach. "Glad to see I'm not the only one running late."

"Actually, you are. Most of us have been here since last night." He lifted the folders. "The chief sent me for rental records."

Alissa hid the wince and clicked her teeth together to stem the explanation. He didn't need to know that she'd logged over thirty hours in the past two days, talking with the victims' families and the witnesses — such as they were — trying to assemble photographs and sketches. Trying to get a sense of the crimes. What bound them together. What set them apart.

Patterns and the lack thereof.

What was the use in explaining? She turned away from him. "We should get inside."

She noted that he didn't open the door for her, and cursed herself for noticing. But before she could slip inside the packed-full room, he leaned down, close enough that she could feel his warmth and smell the woodsy scent that clung to him like a second skin.

"Don't worry, I won't hold the door for you. I remember that you don't like it."

The memory of that one stupid night, the temptation of it whispered along the side of her throat like a caress.

Yeah, she remembered, too. And, damn, she wished she didn't. That had almost been a colossal mistake. So she shot him a glare and hissed, "There's nothing to remember."

But as she stalked into the room and ignored the other cops' stares, his soft, mocking chuckle followed her. Shamed her.

Inflamed her.

Then she saw the photographs of three teenage girls tacked along one wall of the conference room, and Tucker McDermott, that night, and even her problems with her co- workers faded into the background as she was reminded why she was there. Why they were all there.

Three girls were missing, and their time was running out.

If it hadn't already.

Chief Parry stood at the front of the room, a fit, stern man in his late fifties, with salt-shot brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He didn't comment on Alissa's tardiness, but a roomful of eyes followed her to the single empty seat in the corner between Maya Cooper and Cassie Dumont, her friends and the core of the new Bear Claw Creek Forensics Division — BCCFD.

They sat as a unit, separated from the others. Alissa tucked her portfolio between her feet while Chief Parry gestured toward the board, where the girls' faces were blown up larger than life. He touched the photo on the far left, which showed a fey-looking blond wisp of a girl with blue eyes and a gap between her front teeth.

"Three girls in three weeks," he said, voice somber.

"Twenty-two days ago, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Walsh was supposed to meet her friends outside the MovieMogul 10. She never showed." He moved to the middle picture, which showed a slightly chubby brunette wearing dark-rimmed glasses perched over a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her wide nose. "Four days later, seventeen-year- old Maria Blackhorse failed to meet her date at the Natural History Museum. Her parents didn't call it in for nearly forty-eight hours." He moved to the picture on the far right, which showed another blonde, this one model- gorgeous in her expensively posed photograph. "Then, two days ago, eighteen-year-old Holly Barrett disappeared sometime between noon and 4:00 p.m." He turned and scanned the room.

"Three girls in three weeks, people. We haven't found their bodies, but we haven't found them alive, either. And I'll bet my badge that their time is running out."

Alissa didn't need Maya's psychology degree or Cassie's genius with chemicals and blood spatter to tell her that. She'd spoken to the two witnesses who thought they'd seen Elizabeth get into a light-colored van. She'd been to the victims' houses, talked to their parents.

And, yeah, she had a feeling they were running out of time, too. The longer a kidnapper kept his victims, the better his chances of discovery. Unfortunately, the criminals knew that as well as the cops did and had brutal ways of protecting themselves.

Chief Parry continued, "I want a quick report from each division, and then Agent Trouper will give us a rundown of what's going on at his end." The ten-day-old task force contained specialists and detectives from the relevant BCCPD divisions, including Homicide, Missing Persons and Forensics, plus Garrett Trouper, their FBI liaison. Parry nodded toward the corner where the three women sat. "Wyatt, you can get us started with Forensics."

Great. Just great.

Alissa set her teeth, lifted the portfolio, climbed to her feet and faced the room. She was thirty-one years old and an eight-year veteran of two different city police forces. She could do this.

But she was aware of McDermott leaning against the wall at the back of the room, alone. Aware of the other officers' eyes on her, men and women both, all wishing Fitz was there instead of her.

They weren't going to like what she had to report. I've got nothing, she wanted to say, no reliable witnesses, no good sketch, no ideas. Nothing.

Instead, she opened the folder, drew out the pitiful list of the suspect's possible physical traits and a sad description of the van, and handed it to a surly looking uniform in the front row. "Please pass these out for me." She addressed the group. "As you can see here, the two witnesses at the MovieMogul 10 were only partially helpful. They saw a man and a light-colored van, but couldn't be certain of either description…"

She continued to speak, but her attention was drawn to a stir of motion at the back of the room. When she looked up, McDermott was gone.

And a frisson of wariness told her something was up.

THE DESK OFFICER'S SUMMONS had pulled Tucker out of an important meeting, but he couldn't manage to be annoyed by the interruption. He'd been glad to escape the conference room. It was too hot. Too crowded.

Hell, who was he kidding? Any room with Alissa Wyatt in it was too hot and crowded for him. She was a hot ticket, a bundle of energy with the legs of a Vegas showgirl and the light-blue eyes of an artist. Half the men on the BCCPD were panting after her, and the other half wanted her gone.

Tucker straddled the two camps. He wanted her gone, but he didn't want it to matter. And it wouldn't have mattered if it hadn't been for that night, when he'd met her on a crowded dance floor and heard his favorite words, I'm just in town for a few days.

He wasn't proud of it, but vacation flings were his stock in trade. He was too much of a nomad for anything more, and at thirty-five was too damn set in his ways to change now. Hell, the one time he'd tried to settle down had been a disaster. He'd hurt a good woman, someone he'd cared about, though he obviously hadn't cared enough. Since then, he'd stayed carefully away from nesters, from women who wanted more from him than he was able to give.

So he'd danced with the just-in-town-for-a-few-days babe who'd introduced herself as Alissa. He'd reveled in the drape of her long, honey-colored hair as they danced close, then closer still. He'd slid his hands beneath her midriff shirt, riding on the high from closing the Vanzetti case, one too many beers and the gleam of encouragement in her eyes.

They'd kissed on the dance floor, then again in the hall by the phones, moving fast even for him. But the roar of heat had swept away rationality and battered at the small kernel of self-preservation he held close to his soul. They'd stumbled to her rental car wrapped in each other, not sure where they were going but positive they needed to get there quickly, before they proved that spontaneous combustion wasn't a myth.

Excerpt from Ricochet by Jessica Andersen
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